Say you coached a young golf phenom named Tiger Woods for eight years between the ages of 10
and 18. And then a few years later he turned out to be one of the greatest golfers in history. You’d probably be considered one of the best teachers in the game. Right?
Well, yes… and no.
By the age of 10 Tiger Woods was already a national phenomenon, having appeared on national television at age 3 and winning the Junior World Championship by the time he was 8. So when Earl
Woods went looking for a coach to take his son “to the next level”, everyone he talked to recommended John Anselmo.
Why? Over many years of teaching in Southern California, Anselmo had established a reputation as an outstanding teacher of young golfers. His approach was simple and “natural” focusing on common sense down to earth images and explanations rather than “scientific” or textbook theory. He emphasized insight and imagination, rather than the quest for perfect mechanics.
This sort of emphasis puts the “natural” teacher in a kind of dilemma. It is the reason teachers like Anselmo don’t get credit for the accomplishments of their students. If they are not introducing any serious adjustments, how can they take credit for any success that might follow? Didn’t it just take place “naturally”?
Personally I think this contrast between mechanical and intuitive teaching is usually overstated. Who are these mechanics-oriented teachers? Butch Harmon? David Leadbetter? Harvey Penick? Jim Mclean? Not according to them. Virtually every well-known teacher says “I don’t try to confuse a student with lots of theory. I don’t change something just because it doesn’t conform to the mechanical model. I don’t tinker with something that isn’t broken.”
On the other hand, we expect teachers to actually do something. And most of us are impressed when they confidently tell us what they are going to do. That usually translates into swing mechanics, preoccupation with the take away, position at the top, sing path, and so on, and so on.
The irony is that Anselmo is not as “natural” as he claims. For instance, it is simply not true that Anselmo did not make major adjustments to Tiger’s swing. He goes to some length describing how he had Tiger change from a classic flat-planed, around-the-body, hook-waiting-to-happen-at-any-minute “natural” swing, to a more Nicklaus-like upright swing. Anselmo was following Ben Hogan, and says as much (page 13). Note the accompanying picture of Anselmo’s own position at the top of the swing, and how much Hogan influence there is in it.
Anselmo, Nicklaus, and Hogan all hang slightly left (right in this view), in differing degrees of what is sometimes called a “reverse pivot”. This was at least partially because of Hogan’s preoccupation with avoiding the hook. While some pros (Couples, Olazabel to name two) still swing this way, it is generally out of favour. Tiger illustrates the “modern” swing. He is upright and “vertical” and stays back in what is referred to as a more “athletic” position — keeping his center behind the ball and weight on his back leg. Also interesting: Hogan is “flatter”. His shaft is down behind his head
The most interesting parts of the book are where he contrasts “the Anselmo way” with “the conventional way” of executing shots like a draw, or a power fade. What is striking about these comparisons is how much simpler “the Anselmo way” sounds. Again Anselmo has much in common with Nicklaus. As Nicklaus says in the video Golf My Way “to hit a fade all I do is open the club face slightly, and aim left of the target”. This is virtually identical to what Anselmo says: “Aim the clubface at your target, and your feet, knees, hips and shoulders left of it.” (p.51). What could be simpler than that?
There are also some interesting insights into Tiger’s swing “secrets” — although Tiger’s swing is obviously not a very well kept secret. And interesting descriptions of some of the imaginative shots for which Tiger has become famous — you know, the punch shots, winding draws around trees, and those 200 yard fairway bunker shots.
But all in all this book is less notable for its insights into Tiger Woods, than it is for its descriptions of the teaching methods and swing techniques of John Anselmo. If a guy like Tiger could be subjected to the “simple” approach for 350 or so lessons and come out of it even more proficient than when he went in, that’s good enough for me.